When to use FAT or NTFS

NTFS is currently the best file system for hard disks, when we consider Microsoft Windows. Even the latest versions of Windows (like Vista or Windows Server 2008) can read FAT-formatted partitions, but Vista wants to be installed onto an NTFS partition. Earlier versions of Windows could be installed on a FAT partition without any complaint.

So, new versions of Windows push you to use NTFS. However, there is a good reason for it. FAT simply can't provide the level of security required by the modern world, and it also produces too much overhead when working with large partitions, thus making disk usage less effective.

If you occasionally use older versions of Windows, like Windows 98 or Windows ME, you may need to have at least one partition formatted as FAT. There is no NTFS support in Windows 98, so it can't see NTFS partitions by default. However, there are programs that allow you to access NTFS partitions from Windows 98 and other old systems.

You may also consider using FAT on a small (under 500 MB) partition. While being less secure and robust, FAT outperforms NTFS on small volumes.

Yet another reason for using FAT may be a dual-boot computer with Linux or some other non-Windows operating system. Linux can read NTFS volumes, but it has difficulties with writing data into NTFS (Microsoft keeps the exact specification of NTFS in secret). In such a case, FAT volumes can be used for reliable and easy sharing of data between operating systems.

FAT is automatically used for diskettes and some other small media. It can be read by almost every operating system. However, having no built-in security, it is not recommended for sensitive data.

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